New York Giants at Washington Redskins: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

New York Giants (10-5) at Washington Redskins (8-6-1)

I typically don’t like to bet on teams that are expected to rest their starters, but I’m making an exception here because, even though this line suggests the Giants are going to rest their starters and they don’t have anything to play for locked into the 5th seed, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said that the Giants plan to play to win this game, suggesting they won’t be resting their starters. That makes some sense because, after last week’s loss in Philadelphia, the Giants might not want to head into the post-season on a 2-game losing streak with no momentum to speak of.

Perhaps the oddsmakers know something I don’t about McAdoo’s plans that hasn’t been revealed publicly, as they have the Giants as 7.5 point road underdogs in Washington, but I would have had this line as a pick ‘em in normal circumstances so we get more than a touchdown to work with if the Giants do surprisingly pull the starters at halftime or something. The Giants have been the better team this year (9th in first down rate differential vs. 23rd) and they’re in a revenge game after losing at home as favorites to the Redskins earlier this year.

Comparable divisional rivals tend to split the season series, even if the road team pulls the upset in the first game. Divisional road underdogs are 61-35 ATS since 2002 in same season divisional revenge games against an opponent that previously beat them as home favorites and they also pull the upset and win straight up about half the time. If the Giants play their starters all game, they could easily pull the upset and I think it’s worth betting on them as 7.5 point underdogs given Ben McAdoo’s comments this week.

Washington Redskins 23 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +7.5

Confidence: Medium

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Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (13-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-9)

I almost never bet on teams that are expected to rest their starters for some or most of a game in week 17 because it’s too unpredictable. In this game, the Cowboys are expected to start their starters, but how long they play is a complete mystery with the #1 seed already locked up. This line expects their backups to play a lot as they are 5 point underdogs in Philadelphia in a game in which they likely would have been favored by 5 points if their starters were going to play the whole game.

The Cowboys have been one of the best teams in the league this season, particularly on the road, where they are 5-2 ATS (31-23 ATS since 2010), so they could easily jump out to a 10-0 or 14-0 lead with their starters out there and cover this spread even with Mark Sanchez and company playing most of the game, but I’m not going to bet anything on it, especially since the Eagles are an underrated team that has top offensive lineman Lane Johnson back from suspension and is 6-9 despite a 1-6 record in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Dallas Cowboys 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas +5

Confidence: Low

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Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-13)

The Seahawks are typically a very good team in the 2nd half of the regular season under Pete Carroll, going 34-12-1 ATS since Carroll’s first season in 2011 in games 9-16 of the regular season. This year they’ve been 4-3 ATS in the 2nd half of the regular season, but that’s largely because they’ve been overrated for most of the season. In the first half of the regular season, they covered the spread in just two games, squeaking out close victories as big favorites against the Dolphins, Bills, and Falcons, losing to the Saints and Rams in upset fashion, and tying the Cardinals in a game that had an even line. They only covered the spread in big victories over the Jets and these 49ers, two of the worst teams in the league. In the second half of the season, they’ve pulled the upset in New England and gotten big victories over the Eagles, Panthers, and Rams, though they’ve also lost as favorites against the Cardinals, Packers, and Buccaneers. Still, they’ve definitely been a better team in the second half of the season again.

After last week’s home loss to the Cardinals, it doesn’t seem like the Seahawks are overrated anymore. The Cardinals are an underrated team that has won the first down rate battle in 13 of 15 games and that could easily be 10-5 or even 11-4 if they didn’t blow 5 close games with special teams mistakes, but that home loss has moved this line 3 points from 12.5 on the early line last week to 9.5 this week, a significant line movement. The 49ers pulled off a close victory against the terrible Rams last week, but that was just their 2nd victory of the season and prior to that win that had lost 13 straight by an average of 15.23 points per game, including 9 losses by double digits. The Seahawks should be able to make that 10 losses by double digits, though there’s not quite enough here for me to bet money on them.

Seattle Seahawks 23 San Francisco 49ers 10

Pick against the spread: Seattle -9.5

Confidence: Low

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Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (6-8-1) at Los Angeles Rams (4-11)

The Cardinals pulled the upset victory in Seattle last week, a shock to many people, considering they were 8 point underdogs. However, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise, given that the Cardinals have played significantly better than their record this season. They’ve had 5 close losses (or ties) that would have been wins if not for special teams screw ups. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They had a blocked punt and a number of missed field goals in the tie against the Seahawks. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And against Miami, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points.

They’ve actually won the first down rate battle in 13 of 15 games and rank 3rd in first down rate differential on the season. On the flip side, the lowly Rams rank 31st in first down rate differential. They pulled the upset in Arizona against the Cardinals earlier this year, but that was because the Cardinals lost the turnover battle by 4, which tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Even then, it took a late long punt return touchdown to set up the winning score for the Rams. The Cardinals actually won the first down battle by a wide margin, 26 to 12. Since then, the Rams have lost 10 of 11 games and have benched veteran starting quarterback Case Keenum for rookie Jared Goff, who has looked lost in limited action. Prior to last week’s close home loss to the lowly 49ers, the Rams had lost 4 straight games by 16 points or more. The Cardinals should be able to hand them another big loss this week. As long as this line is less than a touchdown, Arizona is worth a bet.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Los Angeles Rams 13

Pick against the spread: Arizona -6.5

Confidence: Medium

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Buffalo Bills at New York Jets: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (7-8) at New York Jets (4-11)

The Jets got blown out by the Patriots in New England 41-3 last week and, if that wasn’t bad enough, they were actually blown out 34-13 the previous week at home for the Dolphins. Believe it or not though, teams actually tend to cover the spread after a blowout loss like that and especially after two blowout losses in a row. Teams are 52-28 ATS since 2002 off of a loss by 35 or more points and teams are also 44-30 ATS since 2002 off of back-to-back losses by 21 or more points. It’s counterintuitive, but teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot, which leads to them covering the spread more often than not.

I can’t guarantee that the Jets will be overlooked or embarrassed this week, but it certainly makes sense that they would be. They’re also definitely undervalued as 4.5 point home underdogs against a Bills team that isn’t in a great position right now either. In the past week, they’ve fired head coach Rex Ryan and benched quarterback Tyrod Taylor so that he doesn’t get hurt, as his salary is guaranteed for next season if he gets hurt. That means that backup EJ Manuel, who looked lost as a starter two years ago, will get the start and it also means that the Bills are strongly considering moving on from Taylor this off-season, despite two solid seasons at the starter.

The players like interim coach Anthony Lynn, but might not give their best effort given that it’s clear that the priority of the front office is not to win this game. Even if they do give their best effort, they have no business being favored by more than a field goal on the road against anyone with EJ Manuel as their quarterback and the likes of Cordy Glenn, Stephon Gilmore, and Kyle Williams all out with injuries. The Jets are very much undervalued after two bad performances and have a good chance to bounce back and surprise people a little bit this week. This is worth a bet if you’re getting more than a field goal.

Buffalo Bills 17 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +4.5

Confidence: Medium

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Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7)

These two teams met back in week 5 in Carolina, a game that Tampa Bay won in an upset. In this re-match though, I think the Panthers have a decent chance to pull the upset as big underdogs and they should at least keep it close and cover the spread. Comparable divisional rivals tend to split the season series, even if the road team pulls the upset in the first game. Divisional road underdogs are 61-35 ATS since 2002 in same season divisional revenge games against an opponent that previously beat them as home favorites and they also pull the upset and win straight up about half the time.

Despite Tampa Bay’s win in Carolina earlier this year and their two game lead in the standings, these two teams are more or less comparable talentwise, as they are within a percentage point in first down rate differential. The Panthers could easily be 8-7 like the Buccaneers, or better, as they’ve lost 5 games by 3 points or fewer, including their first matchup with Tampa Bay. That was despite the fact that the Panthers didn’t have Cam Newton in that game with a concussion and lost the turnover battle by 4.

Despite not having Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers won the first down rate battle in that game by 11.07%. The Panthers aren’t nearly fully healthy without linebacker Luke Kuechly or center Ryan Kalil, but the Buccaneers have lost #2 wide receiver Vincent Jackson and talented tight end Cameron Brate since their last matchup with Carolina too. No one is near fully healthy at this point in the season. Making matters easier for the Panthers, the Buccaneers haven’t had much homefield advantage in Tampa Bay in recent years, going just 21-39 ATS at home since 2009. I don’t know if the Panthers are going to pull the upset, but they’re my Pick of the Week worth a big bet as anything higher than 4 point underdogs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Carolina Panthers 23

Pick against the spread: Carolina +6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (9-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-2)

With the Eagles’ upset victory over the Giants on Thursday Night Football, the Dallas Cowboys have clinched the NFC East and homefield advantage all the way through to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys have said they won’t take their foot off the gas, but it’s going to be tough for them to match Detroit’s intensity this week given that Detroit is still fighting for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, the line moved a point from 7 to 6 after the result of the Philadelphia game, a significant point given that about 9% of games are decided by exactly a touchdown.

If this line was still a touchdown, this would be worth a bet, as I like the spot Detroit is in besides the fact that this game is actually meaningful for them in the standings. The Lions are at an advantage because they are in their second of two road games. Teams are 142-108 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 113-74 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 239-254 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.94 points per game, as opposed to 341-476 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.96 points per game. On top of that, the Cowboys have no real homefield advantage because their fans travel so well. They’re just 11-28 ATS as home favorites since 2010. At 6, this is a low confidence pick, but if there are any 7s still floating out there it’s worth grabbing.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Detroit +6

Confidence: Low

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Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)

I’m torn on this one. On one hand, the Steelers are in a better spot than the Ravens, finishing their season with an easy home game against the Browns on deck. Favorites of 6 or more, like the Steelers are here, tend to take care of business before easy games, going 96-54 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 6 or more again. The Steelers have also been great at home this year, going 4-1 straight up and against the spread in the 5 home games that Ben Roethlisberger started, outscoring opponents by an average of 16.25 points per game in the 4 victories and only losing to the Cowboys in a close 5-point game.

On the other hand, this is the biggest game of either team’s season, so I expect both teams to be completely focused, even if the Steelers have an easier game than the Ravens do next week. The Steelers are barely 6 point favorites any way and it’s arguable they are favored by a point or two too many. They rank 10th in first down rate, but the Ravens rank 16th. These Steelers/Ravens games always tend to be close anyway, with 16 of the last 21 matchups between these two teams being decided by a touchdown or less. On top of that, 10 of the Ravens’ last 17 losses have come by 6 points or fewer, as they have a strong defense and tend to keep games close. I’m taking the Ravens, but this is a no confidence pick. I’d need a full touchdown to take the Ravens with any sort of confidence.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Baltimore Ravens 19

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +6

Confidence: None

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Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (8-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

These two teams met back in week 12 in a game in which the Chiefs prevailed in overtime on a last second field goal. Despite Kansas City’s win, the Broncos actually outplayed the Chiefs for most of the game. The Chiefs needed a return touchdown and a Denver muffed punt just to get it to overtime and still trailed by 8 until the final drive, when they scored their 2nd offensive touchdown of the game and converted for two. At the very least, it was a game that could have gone either way, but it’s arguably a game that the Broncos should have won outright in regulation.

That game was in Denver and this one is in Kansas City, but that actually puts the Broncos in a good spot, as comparable teams tend to split the season series, even if the road team pulls the upset in the first game. Divisional road underdogs are 61-34 ATS since 2002 in same season divisional revenge games against an opponent that previously beat them as home favorites and they also pull the upset and win straight up about half the time. These teams aren’t quite comparable though, as I have the Broncos ranked a few spots higher, so their likelihood of pulling the upset should be even higher.

The Chiefs have 10 wins, but have allowed 44 first downs and 3 offensive touchdowns more than they’ve scored. Their record is largely the result of 6 wins by 8 points or less (including two overtime victories), a +13 turnover margin, and a +7 return touchdown margin, but it’s tough to rely on takeaways and return touchdowns to win you close games, as there’s no week-to-week correlation in turnover margin and, as a result, there’s no week-to-week correlation in return touchdown margin.

The Chiefs won the turnover margin by 2 at home against the Titans last week, but still lost the game as big home favorites because they lost the first down battle 21 to 13 and the first down rate battle by 10.19%, a huge margin. Teams that win the turnover margin by 2, on average, win the game about 81.6% of the time, but the following week they win just 54.2% of the time and an have an average turnover margin of -0.1. That’s the same average turnover margin had by teams that had a +4 turnover margin the week before and the same average turnover margin had by teams that had a -4 turnover margin the week before. There’s simply no correlation between a team’s turnover margin one week and the following week.

While the Broncos enter this game 12th in first down rate differential, as opposed to 28th for the Chiefs. That gap seems bigger than it is because the gap between 12th and 28th is smaller than the gap between 12th and 4th, but the Broncos still have a 3% advantage in that metric, a significant amount. If we assume turnover neutral football, which we always should because of how inconsistent turnover margins are, the Broncos have a great chance to win this game on the road, even before taking into account any trends.

The Broncos enter this game pretty banged up, with middle linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety TJ Ward out and defensive end Derek Wolfe being a game time call, but the Chiefs are expected to be without their best defensive player, outside linebacker Justin Houston, while talented middle linebacker Derrick Johnson went down for the season with a torn achilles two weeks ago, so that kind of evens out. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, but I like the Broncos’ chances to win straight up as well. The Broncos are a high confidence pick at 4 or 3.5 and I’d take them all the way down to 3 if I had to.

Denver Broncos 17 Kansas City Chiefs 16 Upset Pick +170

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: High

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Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1) at Houston Texans (7-7)

The Bengals were expecting to get top wide receiver AJ Green back from injury this week, after a 4-game absence with a hamstring injury. Green even said he was playing this week. However, at the end of a lost season, after getting eliminated in a close loss to the Steelers last week, the Bengals have decided to shut Green down for the rest of the regular season. Green won’t be the only absent Cincinnati player this week either, as he’ll be joined by top linebacker Vontaze Burfict and tight end Tyler Eifert, their top pass catcher in Green’s absence. Despite that, this line has shifted from 3 on the early line last week to 2.5 this week. The Texans could be without starting running back Lamar Miller, but we’re still not really getting any line value with the Bengals anymore. They’re still the pick here, but this is a no confidence pick because a field goal Houston victory is definitely a strong possibility.

Houston Texans 17 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +2.5

Confidence: None

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